Iraq's Communications Ministry has awarded contracts to build Iraq's first mobile phone networks to groups headed by the companies AsiaCell, Orascom and AtherTel.
They were among dozens of companies bidding on contracts offered by the U.S.-led coalition Provisional Authority. News agency reports describe the contracts as among the largest in rebuilding post-war Iraq and say they may bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment.
Iraq will use a GSM system compatible with phones used elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe.
Iraqis were denied mobil phones during the rule of Saddam Hussein, except for in Kurdish-run areas that were free of his control following the 1991 Gulf War.
Bloomberg business news reports there may be 800,000 mobile phone subscribers in Iraq by the end of 2006. Analysts say mobile phone operators could sell $900 million worth of service in the first three years because Iraq's land-line network was badly damaged by economic sanctions and war.
The Egyptian firm Orascom will develop the mobile network in central Iraq, including Baghdad. AsiaCell will provide wireless service in the northern third of Iraq, and AtherTel, which has Kuwaiti partners, will cover the south of Iraq.
Officials say service may begin "within weeks" with mobile telephone customers paying the equivalent of $50-60 for their phones and $0.08-0.10 per minute for airtime.